Maestros of Tech – 6 Most Famous Technology Designers
Design and technology have become two deeply intertwined fields in recent years. For decades, the mantra in the technology industry has been ‘build it first and decide on the looks later’. More often than not, consumers had to contend with crude practical designs with no trace of style in them. But things have changed radically. Today, the look and style of a product is just as important as its function. Just look at Apple. One reason why the Apple brand has flourished through the years is their commitment to flawlessly elegant products. In product after product, Apple and its famous technology designers have had a relentless obsession with form. This is something that has won over millions of consumers even when some products are not up to scratch in terms of function.
Tech Gets Personal
One of the biggest trends driving the shift of focus to design in technology products is how personalized tech is becoming. We are addicted to our smartphones, we cannot part with our MacBooks and PCs, Smartwatches have come in with a bang and even our own clothes are going high tech.
With such personalization, design changes from an option to a priority. If companies want consumers to buy their products and remain loyal to their brands, attractive design is no longer an option, it is a necessity. Perhaps the only exception where consumers can be a bit lenient is when a new technology comes out. For example, no one is complaining much about the alien-look of VR headsets.
With increased focus on design, tech designers have become a highly in-demand breed. They have risen to the level of fame and importance similar to that of their colleagues in the fashion world. In this piece, we look at some of the most influential and famous technology designers that have made their mark on popular gadgets, apps, websites and user interfaces.
1. Sir Jonathan Ive
He is often called one of the best and certainly one of the most famous technology designers in the world.
Currently, Apple is the lucky beneficiary of Ive’s creative genius. The top designer at Apple has worked on numerous Apple products including the iPod, iMac, MacBook, iPad, Apple Watch and others. In 2013, he was, for the first time, give design control over the iOS 7, a radical change from his hardware design scope.
Through his stint at Apple, where he joined as an official employee in 1992, his signature clean and minimalist style has appeared in all products that have gone through his hands. He has been credited with creating Apple’s brand image of a company that is obsessed with clean, simple and highly functional designs. It is this image that has propelled the company to the top of the tech industry.
Having specialized in industrial design in college, he got his first job at a design agency in London. After a year there, he shifted to a startup called Tangerine. There is where he got his first brush with Apple. The startup design agency had Apple as a client and Ive regularly consulted for them. For two years, Apple had tried to get him to work for them without success. But frustrations at Tangerine finally took him to Apple as a full time employee.
Since then, he has designed many iconic Apple products including iMac G3, MessagePad and the iPod. His exploits have earned him numerous recognitions and rewards including top hundred innovators by MIT, biggest influence on British culture by BBC and honorary D.S (Doctor of science) by Cambridge and Oxford universities. He also holds over 5,000 patents in the US and around the world.
Ive has been a full time Apple employee for over two decades, 24 years to be exact. He was recently promoted to Chief Design Officer, making him one of only 4 C-level execs at Apple. Most importantly, he has shifted from focusing on product design to designing the entire Apple brand including its retail stores, campus, products and software. Some say this is an exit path for the 49-year old, a chance for him to take a breather.
Whatever the case, Ive has already created a legacy that will never be matched. His impact on product design has not only been felt at Apple but in the entire tech world. Just ask Samsung; they have become adept at copying Apple designs.
2. Tony Fadell
Like Jonathan Ive, Tony Fadell has also worked with and for Apple. He interacted with the company first as a contractor and later as a full time employee. Fadell’s career started when he became CEO of children software company, Constructive Instruments. At this time he was still studying computer engineering at Michigan University.
After completing his education he worked for a number of companies including General Magic and Phillips. His first attempt at designing his own product was a spectacular failure. Fuse, the electronics company he started, failed to get adequate funding and eventually folded.
His work with Apple started in 2001 when he was hired as a contractor to design the iPod. This was when he came up with the design and concept of the iPod. He later went on to become the VP in charge of iPod engineering. In 2006 he was promoted to Senior VP of the iPod division, a position he held until his sudden departure in 2008.
Fadell’s next big thing was Nest, the smart thermostat company now owned by Google. After getting frustrated while seeking a good thermostat, Fadell worked on creating a better thermostat that was easier to use and saved energy. Nest Labs was launched in 2011 to high acclaim in Silicon Valley and beyond. In 2014, Google bought it for $3.2 billion.
This was the beginning of Fadell’s parting with his beloved Nest brand. Fadell had designed the next big thing in hardware and Nest was poised to follow in the footsteps of Apple or Google and become a great brand. But things did not go so well at Google (now Alphabet) and in June this year, he resigned from the company.
In a similar fashion to Ive, Fadell has left a trail of legacies. He was central to the rise of Apple as one of the top technology brands and his creative genius was on full display at Nest Labs.
More than a decade ago, he designed Apple’s audio products and strategy. A little more than five years ago he kick started the smart home wave. His design influence, one that focuses on constant innovation, continues to resound around the tech industry.
3. Yves Behar
Jonathan Ive and Tony Fadell have one thing in common; their designs have been chiefly in the technology sector. In this regard, Yves Behar completely stands out. While he has designed plenty of technology products, his work extends to numerous other areas including furniture, eyewear, condoms and packaging. His genius knows no bounds.
Born in Switzerland in 1967, Behar attended schools in the US and Europe to study industrial design and drawing. His early career included stints at Lunar Design and Frog Design, companies located in Silicon Valley. He completed projects for Apple, HP and other major brands.
In 1999, he set up a company to bring together his varied design tendencies. Fuseproject has grown into a major industrial design company with a wide range of clients including museums, fashion brands and technology companies attracting other famous technology designers. The company has been the recipient of more than 50 awards.
In the tech arena, he has made his mark with the One Laptop Per Child project, Jawbone headset and the Up wristband. In addition to Fuseproject, he is also head creative officer at Jawbone, one of the leading wearable companies.
In most of his designs, Behar focuses on sustainability and creating products that achieve social good. In his technology designs, he obsesses over human-centered products that promote smooth functionality, convenience and innovation. These are the principles behind his work on iconic products like the Up fitness tracker and August Smart Lock.
Yves Behar design genius has had an impact globally. His product designs have changed lives and made things better for millions of people. In technology, the designer has reinforced the concept of human-focused design. At only 49 years of age, we still expect a lot more from one of the most famous technology designers.
4. Jean-Marc Denis
While famous technology designers like Ive and Behar have design degrees from top universities, Jean-Marc Denis learnt it all on his own. The self-taught product designer was born in France but currently lives in San Francisco. His work has spanned various top Silicon Valley companies including Google and Facebook.
Denis had a deep interest in computers and design from when he was 9 years old. At 19, he dropped out of school and threw himself into the tech world. He founded a company focused on marketing and branding services for businesses, though it closed it down after four years. After a stint working as an employee and later as a freelancer, he got an opportunity to work at Sparrow, where his design career properly took off.
Sparrow was a minimalist email client created for both iOS and Android. Denis greatly influenced the simple efficient look and function of the app. In 2012, Google acquired the startup. Denis and his team were put to work redesigning Gmail.
Jean-Marc Denis design genius was behind the Inbox By Gmail app, which greatly improved the functionality and efficiency of Gmail. He worked on the project until 2014. He then started sketchdesign.io (currently closed) to provide designers, new and experienced, with a source of helpful learning references.
Till 2016, Denis was working on Google’s Daydream project. This is Google’s virtual reality headset. Currently, he is the product design manager at Facebook Messenger, a hugely important job considering how crucial Messenger is to Facebook’s development plans.
5. Tiffani Jones Brown
The proportion of women in the tech world is still worryingly low. This is despite the fact that women are the majority users of platforms like Facebook and Twitter. This is why the title of Tiffani Jones Brown as the creative director at Pinterest is such a big deal, not just for the cataloging platform, but also for women everywhere.
In her position, Tiffani is responsible for the voice and tone on Pinterest from error messages to help guides to terms of service. Her design work lies in crafting text that clearly and succinctly communicates the intended message to the reader.
Before joining Pinterest, she held a similar content strategist job at Facebook. She stands out from our list of famous technology designers for her work and fascination with words. Other designers work with products and apps. Tiffani designs words.
6. Julie Zhuo
At just 22 years of age, Julie Zhuo was hired as Facebook’s first intern. After working for a month, she became a full time engineer and two years later she became part of the product design team. She has risen through the ranks to become the VP in charge of product design at the social networking platform. With over a billion users, Julie’s work is immensely monumental.
She leads a team that determines how Facebook feels and looks to its multitude of users. She is responsible for designing the platform’s look on desktop and mobile, the News Feed and sharing tools. Essentially, her work is central to the continued success of Facebook as one of the biggest and fastest growing social network globally.
She was born in Shanghai, China but her family moved to Texas when she was 5. She is one a growing proportion of women getting into the tech industry and overturning the status quo.
Famous Technology Designers – Creative by Design
Truly skilled and talented tech designers are a rare breed. They need a combination of numerous skills including communication, creativity, problem solving, listening and so on. A wide breadth of knowledge is a mandatory requisite for the job.
In their jumbled and messy work areas, they hold the success of a product in their hands. They decide how users are going to interact with a gadget, an app or a platform. Through their work, they determine the emotions associated with a product and ultimately, the overall user experience.
There are numerous other famous technology designers we have left out. People like Loren Britcher (maker of pull-to-refresh technique and Tweetie), Willem Van Lancker (Google Maps designer) and Ken’ichiro Ashida (Nintendo designer) have made huge impacts in the field of product design.
Are there any other famous technology designers you would include in the list? Leave your comments below.
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